Lions mailbag: Third place likely finish in NFC North

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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Ameer Abdullah

Allen Park -- Welcome to our first Detroit Lions mailbag of the 2016 season. Once the regular season rolls around, we'll make this a weekly feature on a yet-to-be-determined day, but for now, we'll cram one in every now and then during breaks in the team's training camp schedule. This batch of questions were exclusively pulled from Twitter, but in the future, I'll also happily take queries via email. Just make sure to note in the subject line that you're asking a question for the mailbag.

Now on to the questions!

@Justin_Rogers @detroitnews where do you think we end up in our division? 3rd? last place?

— MamaRaisedNoFool (@DirtyJerzFinest) August 2, 2016

A: While it might seem lazy and predictable, I'm not about to bet against Aaron Rodgers. Give me the Green Bay Packers to take home their fifth NFC North crown in six years. And listen, the Vikings' 11-5 season last year wasn't a mirage. That's a really good defense and Minnesota invested in its receiving corps this year, to complement the always-dangerous ground game led by Adrian Peterson. So yeah, right now, third place seems about right for the Lions. That doesn't disqualify them from postseason talk, but to get there, splitting with the Packers and Vikings, plus sweeping the Bears would go a long way toward paving the path.

@Justin_Rogers @detroitnews What is your HONEST feeling about the extent of Levy's injury? Full disclosure - I fear he will never play again

— Mike Hodges (@Lionsfan1960) August 2, 2016

A: Strictly going off my gut, and trying to read between the lines talking to both Levy and coach Jim Caldwell, this situation feels more precautionary than anything. But you know how I can tell you're a Lions fan? You are already convinced it's the worst-case scenario. Remember, Levy was practicing and moving around just fine in June.

@Justin_Rogers who leads the lions in receptions and carries?

— Panicstreak (@panicstreak) August 2, 2016

A: Given the way Golden Tate operates in this offense, catching so many passes close to the line of scrimmage, I anticipate he'll lead the team in receptions at the end of the year. And if Ameer Abdullah manages to stay healthy and doesn't lead the team in carries, that's a problem. He's simply too electric of a runner, both inside and outside the tackles, to not be utilized more frequently than Detroit did during his rookie campaign. Or, worse yet, his fumbling issues come back.

@Justin_Rogers @detroitnews if you had to play 18 holes of golf with any current Detroit lion...who and why?

— J Crowley (@JackCrowley_) August 2, 2016

A: Interesting question. First, I'm not much of a golfer. I play, but it's once or twice a year, and it's not particularly pretty. But if you're asking who would provide the most entertaining company for four hours, I'd probably go with either Levy or Darius Slay. Levy, because we have many similar interests and Slay because he'd keep me laughing from the first tee box to the 19th hole.

@Justin_Rogers @detroitnews How do you look at the schedule, with 2 of 3 on the rd to start the season, home games bunched, and strength?

— Derek Wilczynski (@derekwilc) August 2, 2016

A: I've been on record this entire offseason saying the schedule couldn't be much more favorable for the Lions. You're always going to have rough patches, and the Lions have one to start the year with three of four on the road. But look at the positive side of the situation -- at least you don't have to go on the road to Chicago and Green Bay in December, when temperatures are regularly below freezing. Also, you have to love the late bye week. That's always a plus.

@Justin_Rogers how is Devin Taylor doing so far?

— Barry III (@crossnoe7) August 2, 2016

A: He's settling nicely into his role as a starting defensive end. I don't want anyone to think he's suddenly going to be Ezekiel Ansah 2.0 on the other side, but Taylor could legitimately threaten double-digit sacks with expanded playing time. Remember, he had 4.5 sacks the final six games last year. What I like about his game is the wide array of pass-rush moves he utilizes effectively. It makes him more unpredictable than a lot of players at the position.

@Justin_Rogers @detroitnews who is going to be your sleeper pick for top performer on offense and Defense

— Ryan Hurst (@BassAnonymous) August 2, 2016

A: It's difficult to pick a sleeper on offense, because the team has so many obvious weapons at the skill positions. I'll say this, Riley Reiff could really surprise some people this year. He's taking to the right side quickly, and paired with Larry Warford, the Lions should have more consistent success running the ball to that side. And in pass protection, you know Reiff won't see as talented of edge rushers as he did protecting the blindside, so he should look better by default.

@Justin_Rogers @detroitnews Do the TEs get opportunities in the blocking drills vs DL? If so, who impresses early?

— Badge Dourly (@Badge_Dourly) August 2, 2016

A: They do not. If memory serves correctly, the tight ends usually get some work blocking linebackers in a one-on-one pass rush drill, but we haven't seen that setup through the first four days of camp.

@Justin_Rogers @detroitnews chances of Schwartz beating out Tomlinson for LG spot?

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) August 2, 2016

A: I'm certainly not going to rule it out, but the team has invested a lot in Tomlinson, and to some degree, his struggles are natural for a young player. This could ultimately turn into a similar situation as last year, where it seemed obvious Manny Ramirez was the better player than Travis Swanson and Tomlinson at the time, but the team preferred to keep their long-term players on the field. Geoff Schwartz's worst attribute in recent years has been durability. When healthy, he's a solid player. The hope is that he pushes Tomlinson, and to a less extent Warford, to be better .

@Justin_Rogers @detroitnews At what point do we need to start PANICKING about the O-line? Reports from camp seem dire.

— Dan Welling (@spacecataz1663) August 2, 2016

A: Not until it's a problem in the preseason games. Also, I think some others out there might have unintentionally exaggerated a bit on how one-sided those pass-rush drills were, holding the offensive linemen to an unrealistic standard. I know I graded out offensive lineman as winning certain matchups, where several around me disagreed, but I'm confident in my assessment of the drill.

@Justin_Rogers @detroitnews do you see the in-line TE being on the left side now to help Decker more than not?

— Brandon Kerr (@SFHCommissioner) August 2, 2016

A: It's too early to say. You have to remember, if you leave a tight end to block, even if he releases into the flat on a delayed route, you're largely taking away an option from the quarterback in the passing game. I anticipate you'll see a little of it from Eric Ebron and Matthew Mulligan, but it's unlikely to be an every-down thing.

@Justin_Rogers @detroitnews sounds like Jay Lee has impressed. Can Lions make room for him now that Boldin is guaranteed a roster spot?

— More Rice Cooks (@realPhoenixDark) August 2, 2016

A: Lee has looked solid, but so has Quinshad Davis and Andre Caldwell, a crafty veteran with an impressive special teams skill set. It will boil down to whether the Lions want a trustworthy veteran or are willing to develop a bigger-bodied youngster at that spot and live with some of the bumps in the road that come with that decision.

Personally, I'd keep Lee or Davis and try to keep the other on the practice squad. But seeing how well Caldwell does his thing in practice, I would have a tough time arguing that decision from a win-now perspective.

@Justin_Rogers @detroitnews Will Killebrew be ready to start by the opener?

— Jerry Swider (@bassetcats1) August 2, 2016

A: Highly doubtful. That's Rafael Bush's job, unless he falls on his face during the preseason games. And even if he isn't the guy, the Lions still might go with Tavon Wilson or Isaiah Johnson before Killebrew.  There's a lot to love about the hard-hitting rookie, but there's a natural acclimation period coming from a small school. The hope is he develops into the long-term answer at strong safety, but as he grows into the role, he'll primarily be a special teams player.

@Justin_Rogers @detroitnews what is the realistic expectation of Eric Ebron this year?

— DissapoinTed (@TedR14) August 2, 2016

A: With Tate, Marvin Jones, Theo Riddick, Anquan Boldin and Abdullah, not everyone is going to get their fair share. That's not a bad thing for an offense, but it might limit some individual stats. That said, I still expect Ebron to have a increased role in the offense and would set a reasonable bar around 65-70 catches, 700-750 yards and 6-8 touchdowns.

@Justin_Rogers @detroitnews if Stafford isn't on Twitter, and doesn't play pokemon go, what exactly do you think he does in his free time

— Geoff Pittman (@theGPittman) August 2, 2016

A: I imagine posing for selfies for his wife's account. Here's yesterday's gem.

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